The praying standard as set by women

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama

Chana's son, Shmuel HaNavi's final resting place.
The better known religions dictate prayer as a way to communicate with G-d. However, while the Christians view prayer as a time for silent contemplation, the Torah emphasizes the importance of opening one's mouth and actually speaking with Hashem (G-d). At reading this, one might ask, "But if Hashem is Omnipotent and He knows everything, why does He need us to talk? Doesn't He know what is in our hearts -- shouldn't directing our thoughts and feelings toward Him be enough? Yes, it's true. Nonetheless, Judaism asks us to take our communication with G-d a step further. One reason reveals itself in the Yiddish version of the word prayer - daven. The word daven is derived from the same Latin root as the English word divine. Even though prayer is about making a connection between us and the Creator of the universe, we are still daunted by the idea of our smallness and G-d's vastness. Therefore, when praying we imitate human communication since that  helps us feel closer to G-d.

During the time period of Judges, before the dawning of the Davidike line, the standard for praying was set by a woman. Before that, a person's form of prayer was more informal. If one needed to pray, he entered the nearest field or simply stopped what he was doing, raised his hands to heaven and spoke. However, after the story of Chana, prayer became a convention. In fact, most of the halachot, Jewish laws, pertaining to prayer are picked up from Chana's prayer. We know this because verses about her story were recorded in the book of Samuel. 

How is it that we are following a woman's style of prayer? After all, we are used to men taking the fore with prayer.They daven (pray) in quorums, say kaddish (a blessing during prayers), and they always lead the prayers in shul (synagogue). 

Chana was Elkanah's first wife. Then, he went and took Penina for a wife. To understand how difficult second spouses can be, one has to know that in the biblical age, people nicknamed the second wife tzarah, sorrow, since the initial wife would be forced to suffer the division of her husband's attention between two women and their families. In this story's case, Chana experienced a double agony. Not only did she lose part of her husband's time to a second spouse, she watched Penina give birth to and raise seven children. In the meantime, she remained barren. 

During one family pilgrimage to the Northern part of Israel, Chana separated from the group and went to pray by the mishkan (tabernacle) for a child. Her sadness did not flow from a woman's natural yearning to have a son or daughter, though. Rather, it came from a desire to serve G-d with every fiber of her being. She wished to give Hashem what she had to offer as a wife and mother and she cried because she was falling short of her ideals. The main idea behind tefilla, prayer, comes from the Hebrew infinitive l'hitpalel which means to judge oneself. During her tefillah, Chana examined each part of her body to make sure she was utilizing everything for the service of G-d. When she arrived at her reproductive organs, however, she softly said, "Hashem, master of Legions, if You take note of the suffering of your maidservant and You remember me and do not forget Your maidservant, and give Your maidservant male offspring, then I shall pledge the child to Hashem all the days of my life" (Samuel I 1:11). Tefillah's purpose is bringing us to a recognition of our distinctive roles in this world as well as where we are holding in our relationships with G-d. Chana understood this.  Her prayers were finally answered and G-d blessed her with a son who became one of the greatest prophets, Shmuel HaNavi (Samuel the prophet).

The main idea that our sages picked up from the story is whispering. Imagine your spouse taking you out to a candlelit dinner in an isolated corner of a restaurant. He/she speaks to you in a hushed voice. You lean forward to hear him/her better. At that moment, I am sure everyone else in the world will pop out of existence; your attention is totally focused. This is the example Chana set for us. When she prayed, she prayed from the heart (Samuel I 1:13) and her concentration was entirely on G-d. Since women can reach this level of intimacy more naturally then men, praying became the domain of the women.   

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